[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book II)]
[August 4, 1995]
[Pages 1200-1203]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]



Remarks on Political Reform and an Exchange With Reporters
August 4, 1995

    The President. Good afternoon. I have just finished a very 
productive and stimulating meeting with two outstanding Americans, John 
Gardner and Doris Kearns Goodwin. In the best tradition of our 
citizenship, they have set aside their very busy lives and concerns and 
work to take some time to come to Washington to try to help make 
political reform a reality.
    We discussed how the trust of the American people has been eroded by 
what they see in Washington, by how the lobbyists hold sway more today 
then ever before. And the American people don't like it. The hardworking 
American families of this country know that they did not pay for the 
kind of influence that they see exercised too often in today's Congress.
    When Congress treats telecommunications reform, for example, merely 
as a joust among would-be monopolists, ordinary consumers lose out. When 
the NRA hijacks a congressional hearing process, crime victims and 
police officers lose out. And everybody knows that last week's vote in 
the House to dramatically undermine our ability to enforce our 
environmental laws would not have happened if real campaign finance 
reform and real lobbying reform had been on the books.
    For too long these issues have been mired in partisan in-fighting 
and paralyzed by special interests. We have an obligation to act when we 
can to move beyond partisanship. I had hoped we had reached such a point 
several

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weeks ago in New Hampshire when I shook hands with Speaker Gingrich on a 
proposal made to us by an ordinary American in the audience that we 
create a political reform commission that would work more or less like 
the base closing commission to make recommendations on campaign finance 
reform and lobbying reform.
    Shortly after I returned from New Hampshire, I sent the Speaker a 
letter putting forward my ideas on how to do that. That moment of 
optimism gave way to 5 weeks of silence. When I asked John Gardner and 
Doris Kearns Goodwin to help me make this happen, I certainly hoped that 
the respect and eminence that they bring to this process would help move 
things forward. If there were a commission, these are the kinds of 
people I would appoint to it.
    We continue to hope that the Speaker will live up to his handshake 
and move forward on this commission. But we shouldn't wait, and Congress 
shouldn't either.
    Today I am announcing that I will use the power of my office to 
bring the sunlight of full disclosure to the lobbying process in 
Washington. Right now lobbyists can operate in secret. They can lawfully 
conceal who they work for, what loopholes or contracts or regulations 
they are seeking to pass, or what actions they are seeking to stop. And 
lobbying of the executive branch isn't disclosed at all.
    Last week, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the United States 
Senate voted for lobbying reform. But the House leadership has made it 
clear that they will not even schedule a vote on this measure for quite 
a long while. Delay, debate, and division: that's the same old thing. 
They won't put lobbyists in their proper place in our governmental 
structure.
    So today I have decided to act on my own within my executive 
authority. I am requesting the Attorney General to prepare an Executive 
order that would bar executive branch employees from meeting with any 
lobbyist who does not fully disclose his or her activities to the 
public. In other words, if lobbyists want to contact the executive 
branch, fine, they can. That's an important part of our work here. But 
they can do it only if they tell the public who they are, what they're 
working on, how much they're spending, and what policy they are pushing 
or trying to block. We will, in other words, follow the strict and 
meaningful standards of the Senate bill. From now on, the executive 
branch will operate as if the Senate bill had become law.
    I have now acted on lobby reform. Now there is no excuse for 
congressional delay. The Senate has done its work. I urge the House to 
finish the job. This is really a moment for real bipartisan progress on 
political reform. In recent days, strong and often growing bipartisan 
majorities in the United States Senate have voted to preserve, first of 
all, public funding of Presidential campaigns--something John Gardner 
here did so much to create--to schedule a vote on campaign finance 
reform over the objection of the Senate majority leader and to pass a 
tough gift and lobby reform program in the Senate.
    This bipartisan impulse is our best hope for true and lasting 
reform. But to get there it will have to spread to the House, which has 
been moving back into the past, not going forward into the future. That 
is our challenge today.
    From the reform victories of the turn of the century progressives to 
the changes that followed Watergate, moments of national renewal have 
always called forth people of good will, regardless of party, who were 
willing to do what it takes to change things for the better. This is 
part of our national history, and it must be part of our common ground.
    I call on Congress to join us here to pass lobby reform and campaign 
finance reform, to do it in a bipartisan way, and to restore the public 
trust. In the meanwhile, I am going to establish lobby reform in the 
executive branch by enacting by Executive order the bill passed by the 
United States Senate.
    I'd like now to invite John Gardner and Doris Kearns Goodwin to say 
a few words.

[At this point, John W. Gardner, founder of Common Cause, and historian 
Doris Kearns Goodwin made brief remarks.]

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

    Q. Mr. President, the Speaker today said that the reason he hasn't 
responded to the handshake is because his priority now is saving 
Medicare and that you're not doing anything to save Medicare and why not 
focus in on that as an issue instead of political and campaign finance 
reform.
    The President. First of all, it takes no energy at all. He doesn't 
have to do anything in the Congress right now. All he has to do is to do 
what he said he'd do when he shook hands with me. Let's set up a 
commission. He can

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make his appointments, Senator Dole can make his appointments, I'll make 
my appointments, and Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt can make 
their appointments, and then let the commission go do its work. That is 
not a persuasive reason. There is nothing to do. That takes about 2 or 3 
hours of staff time and about 30 minutes of his time.
    So--and let's say this. Our administration has made the Medicare 
Trust Fund better. Their Medicare cuts are not necessary either to fix 
the Trust Fund or to balance the budget. Over half of their Medicare 
cuts--or roughly half of them--are increased costs to beneficiaries of 
Medicare which will not put one red cent into the Medicare Trust Fund. 
That is not what this is about.
    We have shown you can balance the budget without hurting people on 
Medicare. And that's what I think the Speaker and the majority in the 
House and the Senate ought to say they want to do. And when they say 
that, we can resolve further problems with the Medicare Trust Fund. I 
have shown I'm willing to deal with that. I proposed some savings to 
help deal with that. This is not about the Medicare Trust Fund. This is 
about whether these beneficiaries are going to be soaked for no good 
reason.

Campaign Finance Reform

    Q. Mr. President, why not take the same kind of unilateral action on 
campaign finance reform as you seem to be doing on lobbying reform, say, 
with respect to soft money donations to the party? And does the party 
understand fully, sir, your feelings about them selling access to you to 
big money donors?
    The President. Yes, and we changed that. And we can change that. And 
I have no problem changing that. That is wrong.
    I think--by the way, I think that the President and that any other 
person in public office ought to meet with his or her supporters, 
including financial supporters. I think that's important. I would do 
that anyway. I have always done that; from the time I was attorney 
general of my State I have done that. But it is wrong to raise money on 
the promise of guaranteed specific kinds of access. That is wrong, and 
we stopped that.
    Now, the difference is, I can do this lobby reform and hold the 
executive branch to a higher standard and challenge the Congress to 
follow suit in a way that does not in any way undermine the public 
interest. But if I hold the Democrats to a standard which in effect 
paralyzes them financially, in comparison to the Republicans, I will be 
punishing the very public interest that I seek to advance because it 
will make it less likely that there will be competitive elections.
    The American people's only chance to make the right choices is when 
there are genuine competitive elections. I would love nothing better--if 
I could get an agreement with the Republican Party we could shut this 
whole thing down tomorrow. We could, by mutual agreement, at least 
change the party rules on campaign finance reform. And if they would do 
it, we could do it and we wouldn't have to wait for Congress to act.

Telecommunications Reform

    Q. You mentioned the telecommunications bill, sir. Have the changes 
that have been made to it today made it any more acceptable to you?
    The President. Well, I want to wait and see what happens. I know 
that they acted to try to stop one person from being able to own 
television stations, newspapers, radios, and cable networks in the same 
market. That was a very important step forward. I congratulate the House 
on that. Did the V-chip amendment pass? They're working on that. That's 
also very important to me.
    As you know, I issued a letter on the House bill, which was changed 
markedly after it came out of committee--that's a very unusual 
procedure--setting forth the concerns that I have, the Vice President 
shares, our administration has. We'll just have to review the bill when 
it gets in its final form.

Bosnia and Croatia

    Q. What about the war in Croatia? Are you concerned that that could 
spread into an all-out war in the Balkans?
    The President. Yes--well, I'm concerned that it could spread the war 
in Bosnia and in the Croatia-Serbia area.
    Let me just back up and say the Croatian offensive originally was 
launched in response to the Serb attack on Bihac, one of the protected 
areas. And it has largely, apparently, relieved a lot of pressure on 
Bihac. But because it is so comprehensive, it runs the risk of a wider 
war. And that is what we have cautioned against in our contacts with the 
Croats.

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    Q. So, Mr. President, you're saying that the actual offensive is 
justified?
    The President. I explained that the original Croatian action, which 
we were told by the Croatian Government they would feel compelled to 
take, was animated by the Serbian attack on Bihac. But we have asked 
them to exercise real restraint because we are very concerned about a 
wider war.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:15 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White 
House.